Judge Wants to Know If Eavesdropping Used in Bush Plot Conviction

The government must disclose whether it used any information from the Bush administration's terrorist surveillance program in its case against a man convicted of joining Al Qaeda and plotting to assassinate the president, a federal judge has ruled.

Judge Gerald Bruce Lee postponed the man's sentencing at the request of defense lawyers who suspect that Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, 24, of Falls Church, was illegally targeted by the eavesdropping program.

In a ruling made public Tuesday, the judge gave prosecutors until March 9 to submit a sworn declaration from a government official to say whether any information from the eavesdropping was used in Abu Ali's case.

Prosecutors had opposed any sentencing delay. They said they were not aware of any evidence obtained through the surveillance program, but conceded they may not know exactly how investigators obtained all the evidence.

The judge said a sworn declaration was needed to determine whether any of Abu Ali's constitutional rights were violated. He said the government may file its response under seal if necessary.

Defense lawyers have said they have no direct evidence their client was targeted by the program, but they suspect he was because of the eavesdropping program's apparent focus on Al Qaeda.

Raised in suburban Washington, D.C., Abu Ali confessed that he joined Al Qaeda in 2003 while attending college in Saudi Arabia and discussed assassinating Bush and establishing an Al Qaeda cell in the United States.

He said he was tortured into a false confession, but a jury rejected that claim and convicted him on all counts. He faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison. Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence.